Fasting and religion

Religions involves different practices and rituals in accordance with the area, culture and historical time in which they were developed. Religions can offer advice on behaviour and diet as ways to strengthen the body and purify the spirit. Fasting practices vary widely. Fasting is considered a limiting of or absence of food consumption for a specific period of time. Fasting is generally intended to promote using the body’s energy reserves without causing malnutrition or starvation (1).

Fasting is a common part of many religions. Fasting is part of Judaism and also Christianity, with the practice of Lent. Fasting is practiced in Islam during Ramadan. Fasting is also part of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Taoism.

Greek Orthodox Christian fasting

Greek Orthodox fasting is practiced during Nativity, Lent and the Assumption (2). The Nativity fast is forty days before Christmas. Lent involves fasting forty eight days before Easter. The Assumption fast involves fasting fifteen days in August prior to the Assumption.

Greek Orthodox fasting involves abstaining from meat, eggs, dairy and alcohol. Bread, fruit, vegetables, nuts and cereals are eaten (1).

Islamic fasting

Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth lunar month of the Hijra (Islamic calendar). Food and drink are not allowed during daylight hours. Water is not allowed during daylight hours. The fast is broken by consuming two unrestricted meals, after sunset and before dawn (2). Ramadan is a type of intermittent fasting.

Certain people are exempt from fasting. These include children, pregnant/breastfeeding women, chronically ill, elderly and people travelling long distances (3). Adults are allowed to make up missed days of fasting on other days of the year or during their lifetime.

The length of fasting varies due to Hijra being a lunar calendar. Ramadan lasts approximately twenty nine to thirty days, falling at different times in the year, over a thirty three year period. The average length of daily fasting is twelve to fourteen hours but it can last eighteen to twenty two hours in extreme latitudes (4). Abstaining from caffeine and tobacco during Ramadan is recommended.

Judaism and fasting

Yom Kippur, the Jewish fast occurs on day ten of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. There is restriction from eating and drinking fluids, including water. It is known as the day of Atonement. This abstention from food and drinks is supposed to improve the ability to concentrate on repenting (1).

The Jewish fast lasts twenty five hours. It begins prior to sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur. It ends after nightfall on the next day (1). Yom Kippur is treated as a Sabbath. On that day, no work, cooking, driving, shopping etc. can be undertaken (1). My blog The Jewish diet and Kosher foods in the UK provides information on Jewish dietary laws and Kosher foods.

Buddhism and fasting

Buddhist fasting involves eating a typical vegetarian diet throughout the year. Meat and dairy products (which sometimes includes milk) are excluded (1). The food consumed can vary among different countries i.e. Chinese Buddhists generally drink milk. However, Taiwanese Buddhists consume soybean products in general (5), (6). Eating garlic, garlic chives, Welsh onion, asant, leeks is prohibited. Alcohol and processed foods are also prohibited (1).

Hinduism and fasting

The Hindu literature (Vedic literature) upholds the sacred nature of life. The traditional system of medicine in India – Ayurveda, promotes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, wholegrain foods and avoidance of overcooked, over ripe, refined and highly processed food products (7).

Hinduism allows for different interpretations of the religion. Dietary recommendations and restrictions vary as a result (7). Hinduism advocates a lifestyle that promotes physical and mental health and longevity (1).

The majority of religions share the common aim of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Fasting is a common element of most religions. It can be concluded that fasting is used as a method of purification to obtain a sense of freedom.

References:

1) Venegas-Borsellino, C., & Martindale, R. G. (2018). From Religion to Secularism: the Benefits of Fasting. Current nutrition reports.

3) Ramadan Health Factsheet 2021 (2021) Muslim council of Britain.

2) Trepanowski, J. F., & Bloomer, R. J. (2010). The impact of religious fasting on human health. Nutrition journal9, 57. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-9-57

4) Leiper JB, Molla AM, Molla AM. Effects on health of fluid restriction during fasting in Ramadan. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003;57(Suppl 2):S30–8. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601899

5) Lee Y, Krawinkel M. Body composition and nutrient intake of Buddhist vegetarians. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2009;18(2):265–71.

6) Chen CW, Lin YL, Lin TK, Lin CT, Chen BC, Lin CL. Total cardiovascular risk profile of Taiwanese vegetarians. Eur J ClinNutr. 2008;62(1):138–44. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.160268

7) Twari SC, Pandey NM. The Indian concepts of lifestyle and mental health in old age. Indian J Psychiatry. 2013;55(Suppl 2):S288–S92. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.105553

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